You know its springtime in ontario when the Maple Syrup Festivals start springing up. We are fortunate to be in the middle of Ontario's syrup patch and every spring there are about a dozen festivals for us to choose from. The grand-daddy of all the festivals is put on by the Amish folks in Elmira, but it gets crowded and hectic, so for the past few years we have elected to stay closer to home. This year we went to the Sunderland Maple Syrup Festival.
There are a few critical elements to a good maple syrup festival. One is a tour of a sugar bush. Another is clydesdale horses, and there have to be handmade craft vendors and a country feel to the whole thing. Sunderland supplied all these and more in a fun day-long outing.
We were greeted by a flea market on the main street when we arrived. Background music was provided by a band accompanied by a bunch of square-dancing folks. Everyone looked cold, but happy.
A unique feature of the Sunderland festival is its Bathtub races in which high school students get to race bathtubs down the town's main street. We arrived just after the races, next time we'll have to arrive earlier in the day.
After strolling through the outdoor vendors and past the bathtub racers, we found the craft market in the local elementary school. Lots of folks were selling everything from polished stone jewelry to paintings and braided rugs. SWMBO looked really hard at the preserves to get some ideas for next summer.
In one of the halls of the school was a booth for "Sew Many Monkeyz", a mom-preneur who makes sock-monkey based toys and sewn items. We fell in love with her beach towels, and bought a pair for the boys. We had originally planned on getting the blue one and the purple one, but by the time we came back to get them, all she had left was Purple and
Outside the school, we caught a bus to go on the sugarbush tour. Every year we go on one of these tours, and every year I seem to learn something new. The bus this year took us to Harlaine Maple Farm, about 5 minutes away.
Momma sat with Cuppa on the bus, and I got to sit with Buddy. While we were waiting for the bus ride, you'll never guess what came to the school!
These guys were pulling people around in town, while the bus was travelling out in the country. I thought it was funny that the wagon was almost an exact match for the ones we saw used as daily transportation on our recent trip to Cuba. One of the Clydesdales looked right at us while we waited.
When we arrived at the sugar bush, there was a demonstration of a native sap boil. I had never seen this before. Apparently the first nations people would hollow out a log and fill it with maple sap, then boil down the sap into syrup by adding hot rocks from a fire. Eventually the sap would be reduced and the syrup would be poured out of the log. I didn't get any pics of the process, but it was quite interesting to hear about.
After the demonstration we hiked into the woods and the farmer explained the process of extracting sap to make syrup. This year, the ground has been too cold for the sap to start its spring flow, so the farmers are selling their reserves from last year's crop and hoping that soon we will see temperatures above freezing so the sap starts flowing.
First, the maples are drilled to receive a spile, or tap, which draws sap off the natural draw of the trees. the tap is connected to a hose, which uses gravity to draw down the sap to a central trunk line.
The network of sap lines zig-zags through the forest, following the contours of the land to reach a low point. There, it joins a larger trunk line to go to a sugar shack. The green line in the picture below is a trunk line.
The original sugar shack on this property is no longer in use, but back in 'the good old days' a fire would be kept burning and the maple sugar would go into a steel pan like the one leaning against the sugar shack below. The pan would be kept almost level, and the sap would gradually be boiled down as passed from chamber to chamber through the pan. (A better photographer might have moved the coke can).
A short walk away, we entered the modern sugar shack. Today, the Harlaines still process sap from the same trees that they have been harvesting for over 50 years, but the sap is now boiled down in a climate controlled evaporator hood. The temperatures, sugar levels, and 'sugar sand' are all controlled so that they can produce a consistent medium grade syrup. The evaporator is still wood-fired, but many sugar bushes have converted to propane or natural gas evaporators.
Maple syrup comes in 5 grades from extra light (almost clear) to dark (looks like motor oil) and no one grade is any better or worse than the others. The grade produced just depends on the soil and trees on the property, and the farmer has very little control over the grade of his crop. Generally, the darker the syrup, the stronger the taste of the syrup.
Today its back to work painting and decorating. Soon I'll be able to share more of that project, but first, I have some thrift and antique store finds to share. See you again soon!